My New Year’s Resolution: Calling B.S. on the State Budget

Betsy’s Newmark riffs on a story by Steven Malanga (Wall Street Journal subscription required)who looked at some of the tricks that states have been using to pretend that they were balancing their budgets. While the excerpts that Newmark pulls out sound awfully familiar to us in Maryland, the fact is that shifting money is around in different accounts or moving money from particular accounts to the general account or borrowing against future tax revenues is nothing new. It is not shocking and, quite frankly, it is a bipartisan exercise.

Until we can get some financial realists in the General Assembly of either party, we will never again see a budget that can be easily understood; never again see a budget that is truthful about how much money is really coming in and from what sources or how much money is being spent and on what. This state bring in X dollars of revenue each year. We can spend no more than X dollars. That is how it works, full stop. Financial trickery will buy you a year or two or even a decade, but the bill will come due and our leaders need to stop worrying about the short term only and focus on the long term.
But, to be frank, I am part of the problem and indeed I think most of us are part of the problem. We never call B.S. on the General Assembly themselves, or at least not publicly enough. Sure we at Red Maryland and other conservative blogs will call Governor O’Malley on the matter, but we rarely hold our own Delegates or State Senators feet to the fire when it comes to the budget. We complain about it but we never use the rights we have to publicly denounce the manner in which our state budget is balanced.
The Republican side of Maryland got a beat down at the state level in November. It sucks and I was as disheartened, but the past is the past, learn the lesson but have no doubts and move forward. I believe the message of fiscal responsibility, of fiscal realism resonated, not because it was good politics, but because it was just good, common sense money management. Just as I have had to learn hard lessons about money management in my personal life, so too must we make our elected officials and not just the Democrats, learn the harsh lessons of sound money management. The funny thing is, they know principals of sound money management–they have X dollars of income in their personal lives and can only spend X dollars. But somehow, very few elected officials translate their personal lives into their duties in public office.
As Betsy Newmark pointed out, for governors like Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Chris Christie of New Jersey, it is “not their charm that appeals so much; it’s their hard-nosed acceptance of reality and the courage to start doing something about it.” Daniels and Christie have taken the lessons and basic money management skills from their personal lives and translated them into their public duties. They know implicitly that if you have X dollars in revenue, you can’t have 4X in spending or even 1.1X in spending, you can spend only X. Until a Republican leader stands up and like Daniels and Christie, and starts telling people like it is, it is our right and responsibility to stand up and call B.S. on the budget trickery, on the movement of money and the borrowing against future revenue. As we have all learned, that kind of a bubble only lasts so long, eventually it will burst and where will we be then?
So my New Year’s Resolution is simply this–understand the Maryland Budget and tell my elected Representatives–act responsibly or I am going to be loud and clear in calling you out on it. It won’t matter if you have an R or D behind your name.

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